Published May 17, 2019
ROCKVILLE, Md. — Millions of Americans have chronic viral hepatitis, and most of them don’t know it. National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19th is an opportunity to remind health care providers and the public about who should be tested for viral hepatitis.
The Indian Health Service is releasing a new Special General Memorandum – Hepatitis C: Universal Screening and Treatment that will expand screening for the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, to all IHS patients over the age of 18 years at least once in their lifetime, with additional risk-based screening as indicated. This will not only improve health outcomes for American Indians and Alaska Natives, but can alsoresult in long-term cost savings for the agency.
HCV-related mortality among American Indians and Alaska Natives is more than double the national rate. Early diagnosis and treatment of HCV is important to prevent the development of serious complications. Highly effective treatments for HCV are available and can be successfully implemented at the primary care level with appropriate planning and support.
This new guidance will coordinate efforts in the IHS to implement and exceed therecommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for universal screening for HCV. The CDC recommends HCV screening for all adults born from 1945 through 1965.
Because the rates of HCV in Indian Country are disproportionately higher for those born after 1965 compared to the general population, IHS is implementing universal screening to identify those American Indian and Alaska Native individuals living with HCV who were born after 1965, and get them into treatment before major liver damage occurs.
All IHS direct care facilities will establish and implement universal HCV screening and treatment protocols in a strategic manner as part of a nationwide effort to prevent and control HCV transmission and HCV-related chronic disease.
The Eliminating Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS in Indian Country Initiative will provide treatment and case management services to prevent HCV transmission and enhance HIV testing and linkages to care in support of the administration’s Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America.The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposalincludes $25 million in new investments to expand partnerships between IHS and Native communities to address HCV and HIV.
IHS will continue to work in partnership with tribes and urban Indian organizations across the nation to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.
Rick Haverkate, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, has been working with tribal public health programs since 1989. He has an MPH from the University of Hawaii and currently serves as the National HIV/AIDS and HepC program coordinator for IHS. Rick previously worked with the HHS Office of Minority Health, the National Indian Health Board, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, Inc.